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Genetic Engineering

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Hardly any societal debate has had such extensive consequences for technology risk perception as the one on genetic engineering. The flaws in public discussion on GMOs clarified both the criteria for good risk communication and for successful involvement of stakeholders and the publicDIALOG BASIS has monitored and analysed the GMO-debate closely and tries to disseminate lessons learned – so that same failures would not be made when other emerging technologies are discussed.   

A number of reasons can be identified for the rejection of genetically engineered foods and crops on the European market. As the use of genetic engineering e.g. in pharmaceutics does not evoke the same hostility, a view at ethical, sustainability and insurability arguments used in the agricultural context is especially useful and helps to understand the controversies associated:    

ETHICAL ASPECTS

Critics of genetically modified organisms in food and agriculture have been able to leave their mark in societal value patterns of the European Countries. Arguments that led to the rejection of GMO-foods in Europe (and which sometimes are transfered in the context of other technologies) include:  

  • that the humans should not intervene in natural life processes in an irreversible way (religious-ethical values) 
  • that the consumers’ decision-making autonomy should not be jeopardized (through lack of transparent information, labeling or mixing of crops) (ethical values of individual freedom)

SUSTAINABILITY ASPECTS

Although industry tried to demonstrate sustainablitiy of the GMOs due to the  reduction of used pesticides, GMO-critics brought forward different sustainability arguments: 

  • that social and economic structures in developing countries would be seriously disrupted (sociological dimension of sustainability) 
  • that an uncontrolled migration of genetically modified organisms would lead to outcrossing and irreversible changes in ecosystems (ecological dimension of sustainability)  

INSURABILITY ASPECTS 

In the debate, farmers across Europe brought different insurability aspects forward. Problems are related especially to the small size of farming structures in Europe with problems of outcrossing and how to avoid the mixing of crops in storage and packing: 

  • Liability problems would make the cultivation of GMO crops – even if approved for the marked – practically impossible in the current legal framework. This applies for international shipping as well, as ports can not guarantee a single-variety handling under the current threshold values. 
  • In addition, the insufficient separation led to product recalls and damage claims that questioned the insurability of genetic engineering in agriculture. 

Through the right hand side navigation You will soon find an overview of DIALOG BASIS team members’ projects, lectures and publications in the area of genetic engineering.